Friday, September 21, 2012

How to Keep Your Book in a Top 100 Category

A fellow writer recently asked about my pricing strategies. This is something I don't talk about much because I wrote a chapter on Floatation Pricing ™ in The Indie Author's Guide to the Universe and didn't want to give away the farm. So as one might expect, I kept quiet. But since I still get plenty of questions from authors about price-point solutions, I thought I'd go ahead and share my thoughts on ebook pricing.

But before I do that I want to point out the big blue book image to the right. That is the audio edition of The Indie Author's Guide to the Universe. It was produced by an amazing Voice Pro, Philip Andrew Hodges. His voice is pleasant and enjoyable to listen to, so if you are considering creating an audio book at, look him up. And if you drive a lot or listen to audio books, consider grabbing an audio version of "The Guide". You'll be glad you did.

Now back to my thoughts on pricing…

My writer friend was curious why I use the 99¢ price point and sent me an email asking about my choice. I'm assuming he was asking me because my books are in the 3,000 to 11,000 Amazon ranking at the moment, and he probably thought I was doing something right. So here's what I said...

First of all, pricing has nothing to do with quality. Writers want to bring up the devaluing of books argument, but in truth, the price of a book has nothing to do with the  quality of the literature. Just look at Amazon's Top-100 bestselling books, where prices range from 99¢ to $9.99 and up. You see, the true value of any book is in the demand of the author. 

Authors are products. We are brands. 

Authors rarely think in terms of economics because we can be overly delusional at times, and narcissistic in terms of the world's perception of our work. If you don't believe me, ask any author who is on their third or fourth book. They'll tell you that they thought the world was going to wait in line for their first book as soon as it was released - it was that good! I know, I thought that way, too.

The point is, our books will abide by the laws of supply and demand and there isn't anything we can do about it. If you are in high demand as an author, you can raise the price of your book. If you are in low demand - in other words, if no one knows who you are, you should offer your book at a discount. Don't take it personal, that's just the reality of economics.

I price my books anywhere from 99¢ to $3.99 at different times. But I don't price them that way because I have placed a specific value on my work. 

I price my books to sell, but more importantly, to remain in my category Top-100 list. 

Staying in a category list is my #1 priority in regards to marketing. I don't think about sales (although I get excited when things are going well), and I don't think about whether I'm targeting the right audience either. All I care about is staying in that top 100 list.

"Now wait a minute, Jeff," you say. "Don't you realize the people buying your books on the cheap may never read them? Or worse yet, may write a bad review?"

Yes. And I don't care. If someone buys my books on an impulse, they are giving me more sales, but more importantly, they are keeping me in that category list. And that is the best place to be because that is where my true audience is shopping. 

"But don't you think readers see your 99¢ price as a sign of poor quality?"

No. But again, I don't care. If my book is priced at $3.99 or higher and I'm not in demand, they aren't going to buy my book just because I priced it higher. As the founder of The Kindle Book Review, I see award winning, well reviewed books with a $3.99 price point sitting on a 300,000+ ranking all too often. Remember, the longer I'm in my category list, I'm more likely to find the right buyers - outside of the list, I'm less likely.

I wrote a chapter about Floatation Pricing ™ in The Indie Author's Guide, and I get into the nuts and bolts about this strategy, but the basic idea is to be flexible with your pricing and change it as the tide rises and falls.

I never suggest using one price point. Not only is it important to set your price according to the demand of your products, it is important to be willing to change your price. Sitting on a $3.99 or $4.99 price point because of pride is just stupid. No offense if you're stupid.

If you're selling your books at $2.99 or higher, and they're selling like hot cakes, I'm not talking about you. And if you're trapped by a publisher's inflated pricing system, I'm sorry. I'm not calling either of these groups stupid - just the folks who are sitting there with their arms crossed, pouting about their sales, and blaming it on the guys and gals selling their books for 99¢!

What my friend didn't realize is that I price my books at $3.99, $2.99 and 99¢, always changing the numbers. Every author platform is different based on numerous factors. My audience, ghost/supernatural/occult, is not as large as the thriller audience, but it probably isn't as competitive either. And since I'm still a relatively new voice in the book world, I have chosen to set my price at 99¢ when necessary.

And when is it necessary? Simple. It is necessary for me to lower my price from $2.99 when I'm on the crux of breaking out of the Top-100 ghost category. So when one of my titles is teetering around the 15,000 to 20,000 overall ranking, I'm probably nearing #89 to #90 in my category. But I do not want to wait until I hit #101 because I'll be out of site and start free falling. Therefore, I re-set my price to 99¢ before it drops out of my list.

What I have discovered is that some readers are willing to try my work at $2.99, but not as many as those willing to try my work at 99¢. So when I've tapped out the readers at the $2.99 level, I drop my price, and the discount shoppers take over from there, boosting my ranking once again. Sometimes they'll take me from 20K to 8K or as low as 5K. The audience is always different. And it is always fun watching how the market changes from one week to the next.

"But what about book rentals via KDP Select? Wouldn't you rent more if your book was priced higher?"

No. I do not. My top selling book is always priced at 99¢, and has a ridiculously higher rental rate every month. I don't really know why; it's my shortest length book. Strange. 

Here are my MTD rental stats as of Sept. 21st:

.99¢ Book   -  64 rentals 
$2.99 Book -  11 "   "
$2.99 Book -    5 "   "
$2.99 Book -    2 "   "

Why do you think Carolyn McCray and the 99¢ do a promo featuring 99¢ books? Because they know that books (in general) will drop in ranking and rise in visibility.

Does that bother me that some people refuse to buy my work for more than 99¢? No. Well, not any more. I like readers with low and high book budgets. They are equally cool and just as loyal. Besides, why should I insist on selling at higher prices, when readers can choose from other new writers all day long at the lower prices? What makes me so special? Sure, I write books, but that does not entitle me to anything, including an audience.

Honestly I'm grateful for every reader, no matter what price they pay. And what the hell, I give away tens of thousands of copies every 90 days anyway. 

It's all about staying on the list, making use of Amazon's algorithms, getting noticed, and floating my prices to stay in my Top-100 category at all times.

All my books are currently 99¢, and when you read "The Guide" or chapter on pricing, you'll know why. I'm also using my Layered Marketing approach to the freebie promo I'm running this weekend (9/23-9/25). And if all goes as planned, Twisted Vengeance should hit the top 20 in Amazon's Top 100 FREE list. I actually plan for that because of the resources I use, but you never know. However, I'm 4/4 in my last 4 freebie runs.

In conclusion, there is no single rule to pricing - get locked into an idea and you'll slowly watch your ranking drop from obscure to pathetic in a few months (unless you are in high demand). There are far too many factors for anyone to say, "This is a guaranteed result". But if you've tried to price your book at all levels and you're still having trouble selling, it may be time to look at the other factors like cover, product description, writing quality, and sample.

Publishing is a business in motion, so it's better to learn how to sail rather than learn how to build a boat.

 ~ Jeff Bennington


  1. Nice explanation, Jeff. You know I have your book "The Indie Author's Guide" and haven't read it? Shame on me! Thanks for the reminder of the other gems I'm missing out on.

  2. I am new this the ebook world of pricing and marketing but I totally agree with this post. It is all about being seen and heard. I have priced my book at 99 cents and 99 pence, just to be seen in the rankings. I am currently #520 bestseller in UK and #5 in True Crime, #5 in True Accounts, #36 in Biographies and #73 in Non Fiction.

    My book is called WRONG PLACE WRONG TIME and is based on true events.

  3. Great, helpful article, Jeff. Thanks for sharing this information and all the best with. ~ Peggy

  4. Great article! Lots to think about. You're right about price not being an indicator of quality. I'm new to the world of indie publishing, it's very interesting to read the different opinions about pricing.

  5. Heh, I think I tend to use something approaching your strategy without the terminology. :) But I have to admit, I haven't seen the kind of consistent rebound you seem to attribute to the 99 cent price point, especially since Amazon seems to now punish anything below 2.99.

    But as far as I'm concerned, it's all an experiment, and I will continue to play. *g*

  6. I just found you here, Jeff. You are everywhere and you are a wonderful example for all of us. Good luck, Mary Firmin, author Deadly Pleasures.

    1. Hi, Mary! Well, you had to dig pretty deep to get to this post. Thanks for visiting!

  7. Jeff, like Mary, I just found you. You've explained a lot to this relative newcomer. Thanks. Author, The Red Shoelace Killer - A Minnie Markwood Mystery.


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